NSA amendment’s narrow defeat encourages privacy advocates

“It’s the beginning…”

The razor-thin defeat of a congressional measure to rein in domestic surveillance galvanized civil libertarians on Thursday for what they expect to be a drawn-out political and legal struggle to clip the wings of the intelligence apparatus in the US.

While a measure by Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, failed in the House on Wednesday night, the tight vote was the closest that privacy advocates have come since 9/11 to stopping the National Security Agency from collecting Americans’ data in bulk.

Members of Congress, liberties groups and former surveillance officials pointed to a variety of measures, from new legislation in both the Senate and House to court cases, as means to reset the much-contested balance between liberty and security in the US over the coming weeks and months.

“There are many voices concerned in the Senate about this same issue,” said J Kirk Wiebe, a former senior NSA analyst turned whistleblower. “It doesn’t mean it’s the end of it. It’s the beginning…”

A tally of the votes shows that a majority of Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. One of them, Barbara Lee, told the Guardian that the “stage was now set” to curb the NSA. “It was a great beginning – a first step,” she said.

Representative Keith Ellison, co-chairman of the congressional progressive caucus, expressed disappointment that the Amash amendent did not pass. “For the government to just collect people’s data without any sense of that individual warrants or merits and investigation of some kind is a problem. I am pretty disappointed we didn’t pass it, but I am pretty impressed with how well we did. This issue is not over. There will be more voters and there will be more bills. I feel confident we can perhaps prevail…”

In the Senate, a bill introduced late last month by Pat Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the judiciary committee, would shorten the lifespan of the Patriot Act and compel the government to “show relevance to an authorized investigation and a link to one of three categories of a foreign agent, power, or group,” thereby blocking the bulk surveillance

Exciting times. Like many foolish nations using the patriotism mantra to excuse every kind of limitation on individual rights and freedoms – American citizens are accustomed to asking, “how high, sir” when Uncle Sugar says “Jump – or you’re unpatriotic!” It took years to overcome that crap while building resistance to the VietNam War. We went through it again over Bush’s War on Iraq.

While we keep up the pressure, this might be one of those rare chances at rapidly turning around gross violations of human rights put in place by the same sleazy government that made them legal. And patriotic.

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